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The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) initiated the Green Infrastructure (GI) program back in 2002, and it was met with great skepticism. MMSD saw that using GI to manage water where it falls would help keep it out of the region’s sewer system and keep it from carrying pollution to the rivers. This natural approach to managing stormwater would help revitalize our densely populated areas, and that everyone in the region has a part to play in reducing water pollution. GI gave our community tools to do just that. What MMSD did not think about at the time were the added benefits this program would have with mitigating climate change; that realization came later.
The GI effort started slowly, rolling out one rain barrel at a time. As it grew, it attracted partners - people who saw it as more than just an effort to manage stormwater. These people brought neighborhoods together and, in turn, the neighborhoods nudged their municipalities down the path of embracing GI. Step by step, GI moved forward.
Rain gardens came next, and along with them, downspout disconnections. The visibility of the rain gardens also beautified the neighborhoods and helped connect people to the important role they could play in helping protect our local waterways. Rain gardens paved the way for naturally vegetated bioswales (like a rain garden with a little more engineering involved), again bringing beauty and habitat. Porous pavement, green roofs, trees, and depaving all became part of the GI package.
Today this package of natural improvements is being used to improve the region’s schoolyards. Asphalt is being removed, natural playgrounds are being created, and our children are learning about the Great Lakes and how they can protect them.
Drive around the region, and you are likely to come across bioswales in the boulevards of local roadways, rain gardens near parking lots, and porous pavement in parking lanes and lots, all stepping the region toward cleaner water.
MMSD set an ambitious goal of capturing the first half-inch of rainfall in our service area with the GI Program. Working through the calculations for the Milwaukee region, that equals about 740 million gallons – A LOT OF WATER!
Much work has taken place over the years, and by chance, the Milwaukee region reached a significant milestone during Earth Week 2023. Our region can now proudly proclaim we’re capturing over 100 million gallons of rainwater with GI each time it rains. That’s a lot of water, but more is needed.
To all the garden clubs, neighborhood associations, municipal engineers, elected officials, the understanding property owners, and anyone else we might be missing who are pitching in and embracing this exciting and important effort, MMSD says - THANK YOU!
Cities throughout the United States are now making similar investments in GI. The local and national skepticism has diminished, but the resolve has not.
100 million gallons down, 640 million gallons to go. We WILL do this!
Be Safe. Be Understanding. Be Kind.
Kevin L. Shafer, P.E.
Executive Director - Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
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Green infrastructure captures, absorbs or stores rain and melting snow, taking on numerous shapes and sizes from 55-gallon rain barrels to trees and porous pavers for parking lots, driveways and sidewalks. You can see green roofs on buildings or bioswales along city streets.
Are you a homeowner, organization, or business looking for help on installing green infrastructure? Contact the Fresh Coast Guardians Resource Center to get started today.
A Green Luminary® helps protect our rivers and Lake Michigan by adopting practices that harvest rainfall for other uses, or mimic nature, by helping it soak into the ground to reduce water pollution. View previous Green Luminary® award winners from the MMSD service area.